Breaking Destructive Life Patterns When You Minister to Others
Is the Christian walk an invitation to fatigue? As spiritual leaders, do we really want to lead others to live an unbalanced lifestyle, just waiting to burn out? Here are some destructive life patterns that need to be broken if healing is to occur.
The Personal Obligation Pattern
Most Christian leaders feel obligated to everyone. Sometimes the problem is a fear of not being liked or loved for saying no once in a while. Or the wounded leader may really feel that without him terrible things will happen in the lives of those who look to him for ministry. He sees their failures as his own and therefore can’t risk letting them fail. Setting boundaries and being assertive is essential to your own health and the welfare of your family.
The Self-Sacrificing Pattern
Ministers and Christian leaders often have this subconscious belief that goes something like this: “If I’m not working to exhaustion, I’m not working hard enough.” Recreation, exercise, even sleep may feel like a distraction from the important task of God’s work. Taking a Sabbath every week is essential to a pastor’s mental and spiritual health. Rest, vacation time and simply time to do something he really enjoys will rejuvenate one to continue God’s work.
The Isolation Pattern
Most patterns of government extant in the modern church are set up to keep the pastor isolated and to deprive him of power. We don’t often realize this and we don’t often consciously desire it, but it’s true. Most churches today are governed as democracies in which the task of those who occupy offices is to carry out the will of the people as expressed in the vote of the majority. But God’s church was intended to be a theocracy, ruled by God through His anointed and appointed servants who discern and carry out His will—and who have both freedom and authority to do so. He should be able to surround himself with a group of trusted confidants and co-shepherds in the spirit of Ephesians 4:11. If a pastor cannot change or speak into the church leadership structure, then he should intentionally develop a support team of spiritual prayer partners and ministers who will “get under the load” with him.
The Self-Abuse Pattern
Many a depressed or discouraged pastor will engage in destructive patterns that will come from improper diet and adequate rest. Sixty to seventy-hour work weeks can also add fuel to the fire of burnout. Learning to read your body, seeing the wall coming before the leader hits it, is incredibly important. Have your spouse speak into your schedule. Even simple changes like determining not to be the last one to leave the church on Sunday each week will help. Don’t spend all your time with the “drainers” in your church-save time for the “energizers.”
The Prayer Pattern
A pastor’s prayer life is often shot. Legalism can drain all the joy of spending time with God. Prayer should include listening with speaking. Be creative. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.” This is natural, conversational interaction with God throughout the day. Psalm 119 and other passages encourage us to meditate continually on the Word of God. That leaves a lot of room for creativity and spontaneity.
Begin breaking patterns by confessing your helplessness, and then call upon the Lord to rescue you. It’s a time-honored and proven-to-bear-fruit cry. Then trust Him to begin a journey to healing, health and balanced living.
R. Loren Sandford: Wounded Warriors. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Victory Publishers, 1987, pp. 85-102. Used by permission.